The ex-Ralph Bryans, Isle of Man TT
1962 Benelli 50cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle
Frame no. CE 71166
Engine no. C 74963
Invented in Italy immediately after WW2, 50cc racing had progressed sufficiently to merit its own World Championship by 1962. By this time the involvement of the major Japanese manufacturers had left the Italians emphatically outclassed, but that did not deter Shropshire-based rider/entrant Fron Purslow from importing one, or perhaps two, Benelli 50s from the factory, as did Eire Benelli distributor Joe Arnold. Although prepared in the works racing department, the GP bikes drew heavily on the roadster version for parts, although the frames were specially constructed. Its pedals removed, the single-cylinder two-stroke engine was ported and fitted with a larger carburettor and a deafening megaphone exhaust. The four-speed gearbox was retained together with its unorthodox (for a racing motorcycle) twistgrip-operated change mechanism, mounted on the left-side clip-on. Clad in a two-piece fairing wrapped tightly around it, the Benelli 50 was geared for a top speed of 75mph at 10,000 revs on the high-speed Isle of Man Mountain Circuit.
Three Benellis were entered in the historic first 50cc TT in the Isle of Man in 1962, although how many actually started is open to question. Entered by Jack Arnold, T J Joe Wood (No. 29) had won the only two 50cc races in Ireland on the Benelli, the Temple 100 and the Magaberry short circuit, while Fron Purslow had entered himself (No. 50) and Alan Dugdale (No. 27). Alan was contesting the other four solo classes at the TT that year and had little time to practice on the Benelli. At Joe Woods suggestion, Purslow offered the ride to Ralph Bryans, although in the race Bryans rode bike 50, not 27.
Ulsterman Ralph Bryans had won the Irish 200cc Championship in 1960, his first major success, and at a little over nine stone was the ideal build for a 50cc racer. He finished 15th in the race, an excellent result considering that there were nine works Honda entries, three entries from the Honda European agents, four works Suzukis, five works Kreidlers and three works Derbis. The race was won by Ernst Degner (Suzuki) from Luigi Tavieri (Honda) at a speed of 75.12mph.
Ralph Bryans rode Joe Ryan-entered Nortons in 1963 and landed himself a Honda contract for 1964. 50cc World Champion in 1965, he also contested the 125, 250 and 350cc classes for Honda and would have won the 250 World Championship in 1967 if the outcome had been decided using todays all points count system. Irelands first road-racing World Champion and one of the very few riders to have scored points in all five Grand Prix classes, he retired from racing in 1970.
After the TT, Purslow sold the Bryans Benelli to Alan Hutchings, who rode it in the 1963 TT, retiring with big-end problems. Hutchings then sold the bike to Jim Pink who in turn sold it to long-term owner Robin Read. Read kept the Benelli only briefly first time around, but several years later began to hanker after a racing 50 again. He tracked the bike down via the Racing 50 Motorcycle Club and repurchased it in November 1973. The Benelli was restored by Robin Read in the 1980s and subsequently featured in Classic Racer magazine (Spring 1987 issue). It was purchased by the current owner in March 1997 and comes with a well-researched history, prepared by Robin Read and which prospective purchasers are urged to inspect, including contemporary press reports, TT programme entries, race results, Benelli factory correspondence, Robin Reads 1965 and 1973 sales receipts, sundry parts/services invoices and an engine/gearbox parts list. In addition, Ralph Bryans' 1962 TT 15th place finisher's award is included with the machine. A rare opportunity to acquire a Grand Prix 50 dating from the very first year of the classs World Championship status and ridden by a future World Champion on his international debut.
- This machine has a 3-speed gearbox, not a 4-speed as stated in the catalogue.